There’s a phrase in the Maori language of my native New Zealand:

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!
What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people! It is people! It is people!

People were the name of the game in Emma Millington’s UX Scotland presentation. She works for the usability recruitment agency People For Research, which involves working with agencies, clients, and also testing participants. She gave insights into what can go wrong, and how best to manage the process to keep things running smoothly.

Recruiting participants is described by the Neilsen Norman group as the “unglamorous foundation for all usability testing” – it’s easy to forget about, but without those people there is no testing!

As with anything involving dealing with people, things can go wrong from clients not knowing what they want and thus briefing the recruiter incorrectly, the incentive not being enough so that people don’t show up, the incentive being too much and attracting people for the wrong reasons (more on that later).

I was surprised to hear that in some cases people can go to particular lengths for an incentive – Millington gave one example where a client felt a particular person recruited for testing seemed familiar, even though their name wasn’t on the system … after checking through video records it transpired that they had given a different name and had a hair cut and done the same test twice in several months. These are rare, but are a reminder that it’s worth speaking up, just in case.

Millington’s suggestions for managing the circus were common sense, but worth a reminder all the same:

  1. Be clear about objective. Actually call the recruiter for a kick off rather than just sending through an email – it could be that the recruiter could pick up particular issues that won’t come across in an email.
  2. For that matter, actually write a proper brief of the people that you need, what key attributes are important, and timeframes. Realistic timeframes too – the more niche the audience, the longer the lead time as they may have to do things like send out cold emails or use snowball recruiting to get people. Corporate people are a lot harder than every day consumers
  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate! Participant recruiters understand that multiple stakeholders can be involved. Clients change their minds, projects shift, but they can all be managed as long as there are clear lines of what’s going on. Similarly, commmunicating with the participants makes a big difference as well – if at all possible give them the option to hear about the results, at the very least just send a thank you email!

I was interested in finding out about particular surprises to look out for when it comes to getting participants. A key one was timing, particularly school holidays – it can make some groups easier to get hold of (e.g. young people) but others harder (teachers are likely to have headed off on holidays and not be checking their phone or email!).

Finally, I have to admit I had no idea that the UXPA had a code of conduct, but People for Research use this as well as the Marketing Research Society (MRS) equivalent as well as data protection laws to help govern their approach with participants.

 

Vicky Teinaki is a user experience designer at Newcastle upon Tyne agency Orange Bus. She is also working on a PhD at Northumbria University about better ways of communicating design methods within the design industry.